The overheated climate debate

NB I wrote this in 2006 but it still holds true, even more so perhaps because of the discrediting of the IPCC.  

 The hysteria

“Britain has 4 years to help cool the planet” shrieked a headline in the Metro (15 9 2006).   It was prompted by a report commissioned by  the Cooperative Bank and Friends of the Earth and produced by the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research of the University of Manchester.

The story by Anne Campbell continued in the same purple prose vein: “Ministers have only four years to carry out a major new plan to cut carbon emissions if Britain is to help cool the planet. The claim was made as green campaigners spelt out a new roadmap to saving the world.”

Tabloid journalistic excess grossly distorting research? Perhaps, because scientific research papers are normally full of caveats even if their final message is clear. Putting forward a message at odds  with the sponsors of the report’s views? Sadly no, for commenting on the report, the Co-operative Bank’s director of corporate affairs, Simon Williams,  spoke in the same emotive,  cliched,  hectoring  and meaningless way: “This is more than the yet another wake-up call. Even if scientists take an increasingly gloomy view of the continually increasing  view of the continually increasing impact  on  our environment, this report shows that if we start acting now we can cut carbons. But we need decisive action by the Government.”

The story and its media presentation demonstrates all that is wrong with the debate on global warming: it is hysterical and absurdly alarmist in tone, the report is financed by those with a vested interest in one side of the debate,  debatable ideas are presented as incontrovertible fact and calls are made for governments to  pursue policies without any proper regard to the effects on their own people or the behaviour of other governments throughout the world.

Expert opinion

Notwithstanding the unsatisfactory way the global warming debate is conducted, the large majority of climate scientists agree that man-made global warming is occurring. Can the “experts” all be wrong?  Are we all going  to Hell in a man-made global warming handcart?  I put experts in inverted commas because “expert” advice so often proves to be nonsense and frequently dangerous nonsense to boot.

Here are a few stories drawn from the Daily and Sunday Telegraphs over one month which show “experts” either contradicting previous expert opinion or expert opinion being show to be inadequate. “Trauma patient care ‘may do more harm than good'” (Daily Telegraph 7 9 2006 – study shows brain damaged patients taking anti-inflammatory corticosteroids are 3.2 per cent more likely to die than those taking a placebo), “Counsellors raise victims’ stress” (Sunday Telegraph 20/8/2006 – University of Amsterdam study shows victims of traumatic events  who received counselling displayed poorer mental health – based on such symptoms as depression and anxiety -than those who had no counselling),

“Beta blockers blamed for ‘8,000 needless diabetes cases a year (Daily Telegraph 7 9 2006 – inadequate expert opinion),  DDT in Africa saves babies lives says WHO (Sunday Telegraph 17 9 2006 – this after decades of experts saying DDT is very dangerous), Woman in a persistent vegetative state uses thought to communicate (Daily Telegraph 8 9 2006 – brain scanning shows woman diagnosed as brain-dead is conscious and able to respond to words spoken to her, this after the medical experts have consistently sworn blind that such a diagnosis meant the person was effectively dead. The effect of such a diagnosis is that people have had life support systems turned off and been left to die of thirst and starvation).

Of course these are all newspaper stories not scientific reports, albeit from broadsheets rather than tabloids. The reports may be to a degree inaccurate or give an incomplete picture of the research. But however cautious one might be in taking the stories as gospel or complete, it is difficult to see how, for example, the WHO DDT story could be anything other than true in its basic message that DDT should be used. What the stories illustrate is the fact that “expert opinion” is far from being exact or permanent even when it is dealing with areas which might be broadly described as scientific.

Where “expert” opinion strays into fields which are not scientific, for example, economics, it  is even less credible as superior opinion because its predictive power is poor verging on non-existent. Sometimes the human experts’  bluff is called in the most embarrassing way. In “The unsaid truth: machines are better [company] stock pickers, a  Dresdner Kleinwort “behavioural specialist” James Montier  described  the results of an exercise in which he compared the results of mechanistic (computer) stock selection with human selection and found the mechanistic approach was significantly better (Daily Telegraph 15 8 2006).

When scientific “experts” are shown to have been wrong they will say they gave the best opinion possible on the known facts at the time; that science is a work in progress not a finished corpus of facts.  Emma Dickinson, a spokesman for the British Medical Journal, recently stated this  quasi-official scientific position nicely:  “Science moves from observation to observation and you get scientific progress. There is no end point…It is the nature of scientists to disagree with each other – that’s how science moves on.” (Sunday Telegraph 27 8 2006)

Whether scientists always behave like that and never go beyond the existing evidence or miss obvious flaws in their experiments’ designs, their data collection and their interpretation of data is to say the least very debatable – my mind turns to the recent British cot death cases involving Professor Roy Meadows, whose “expert” evidence wrongly sent a number of women to prison with life sentences for murdering their babies – most disturbingly, his “expert” evidence was wrong because he did not understand basic statistics.

Nor is it true that scientists always present their data in an unsensational and accurate way. Several years ago the Human Genome project was announced as “completed” by the scientists who won the race to publish. This gave a whole new meaning to the word “completed”,  because not only was the function of most genes and the relationship between genes not known,  after the announcement the geneticists involved in the project were still unable to give an accurate number for the genes which make up the human genome.

But even if scientists did by some miracle always behave in the most competent, intelligent and conscientious way, it would not solve the basic problem arising from their get-out clause of “no scientific certainty”. If science is as they say always “a work in progress” and any erroneous “expert opinion” can be explained away by the “best opinion on the available evidence at the time” ploy, they have no responsibility and, by extension, nor do the politicians who accept their advice with the rider “we must be guided by the experts.”

It is in the context of the general fallibility of expert opinion that  we need to judge the climate scientists who support global warming. We should also remember that they are the same class of people who were saying 30 years ago that there would be a new Ice Age (In another thirty years I suspect we shall be back to the Ice Age just around the corner “expert” advice.) Anything they claim now can reasonably be treated with suspicion.

If scientists were simply academics whose work had no  general significance the get-out clause would not matter. They could be right or wrong as often as they liked and their mistakes or ignorance  would have no more effect on society than do the mistakes and ignorance of classicists. But the reverse is true: scientific “knowledge” has a most powerful effect on society.   Politicians and interest groups grab hold of the research which suits their purposes and treat it as objective fact. Often they do not understand the science.   The  consequence is that much public policy is made on scientific claims which are at best the most educated of guesses and at worst no more than wild speculation.

Governments and elites everywhere have a natural tendency towards authoritarianism  and social control and consequently  need  no encouragement to use scare stories to increase their power. Scientific scare stories are the perfect type because the general public is even less equipped to judge the truth or otherwise of scientific research than politicians and is collectively a sucker for “scare stories” –  that is particularly true of  the-end-of-the-world-is-nigh-unless-we-do- this” stories.

But even if the public was not so easy to manipulate with scare stories there would be little they could do even in a supposed democracy such as Britain. In fact, what Britain (and all other reputed democracies) has is not democracy but what academics like to call elective oligarchy. This allows the electorate to do no more than  choose between competing parts of the elite every few years. If the competing parts of the elite have different policies there is some electoral choice and democratic control; where the elite agrees on a policy there is no choice for the electorate.

If an elite has bound a country by treaties into supranational bodies the electorate is even further removed from any chance of exercising their will if the decision is made outside the framework of national politics. That is precisely what has happened to Britain through her membership of the EU and treaties such as the UN Convention on Refugees. In the case of global warming, policy is made by the EU and consequently  while Britain remains within the EU  the  British electorate has no choice to make. Currently, the EU policy on man-made global warming is both to treat it as an established fact and to adopt, at least in theory, severe CO2 reduction measures. More on that later.

But it is not only CO2 which is a greenhouse gas, although it is reckoned to be the most important one. Methane is next on the list of villains. It is produced by for example animals, agriculture, coal mines and decomposing matter  in landfill waste disposal sites. Happily, governments have not as yet decided to place limits on the number of animals, including human beings in the world, but they have started to ban landfills. Again this is a policy forced on Britain by the EU.  

Bringing up the rear are nitrous oxide (5 percent of total emissions), which comes from burning fossil fuels and from some  fertilizers and industrial processes and human created gases (2 percent of total emissions) are by-products of industrial processes. These are also increasingly subject to government controls.

The joker in the greenhouse warming pack is water vapour which can vary from virtually zero to 4 per cent of the atmosphere. This cannot be directly controlled by Man.  

Political correctness

The global  debate is further skewed by the inclusion of  man-made global  warming  within the protective fortress of  political correctness.

Man-made global warming slipped neatly into political correctness because it fits naturally with the liberal internationalist creed which instinctively  seeks “world action” on anything and everything  and starts from the view that the West is only rich and successful (while the rest of the world wallows in various states of social and economic ineptitude) because the West has both historically and now, in some curious way, exploited and abusd the rest of the world.   Indeed, the wealth and success of the West is frequently described as “obscene”  by the man-made global warmers.   At the political level, both within mainstream parties and pressure groups, the belief in man-made global warming is a conduit for liberal angst.

Let me illustrate the mentality of the global warmers with  reference to a couple prominent figures: Frances Cairncross (the president of the British Association and chairman of the Economic and Social Research Council) and  the losing democratic candidate in the 2000 presidential election Al Gore, who has a documentary film in the cinemas at present (Sept 2006) entitled An inconvenient truth.

Cairncross believes that global warming can only be dealt with by “persuading  this generation to accept sacrifices on behalf  of posterity; and persuading countries that will gain from climate change,or lose little, to take action not on behalf of their own grandchildren but of the descendants of people in other nations”‘ ((Daily Telegraph 04/09/2006).

Gore’s film is two hours or so of unashamed man-made global warming polemic, which is delivered in the form of a lecture by Gore intercutwith film from outside the lecture theatre. He gives the ideological game away early in the piece with his statement “Global warming is not  really  a political issue; it is a moral issue”. The reason he considers it a moral issue is made clear in the rest of the film: most of the land which is thought to be most at risk from rising sea levels is in the Third World.

Nowhere in the film is anyone allowed to put the case that each nation should look to its own safety and convenience and not to some  international salvation. This is par for the course for public discussion of the subject in Britain and most of the First World – I have been unable to find any mainstream politician in the West who puts the nationalist case. The nearest one gets to it is the resistance, mainly in the USA and Australia, to the economic disruption which would result from taking the action the global warmers demand. But even here, the resistance is not on the grounds that warming will not affect their country much or at all, but rather it is based either on a denial that warming is occurring or that warming is simply a natural cyclical phenomenon which cannot be affected by any action Man takes.  

The essentially ideological nature of the man-made global warming side of the argument  can  also be seen from the reluctance of many campaigners to address the question of whether Man can adjust to the effects of global warming. Gore makes great play with the fate of New Orleans when it was hit by Hurricane Katrina as a global warming  disaster. In fact, Katrina did not demonstrate that Man is helpless in the face of such climatic events as a particularly violent hurricane. Instead it showed what happens when Man does not plan properly for natural disasters. Katrina was a fiasco because the flood defences of New Orleans (the levees) were inadequate. Had the money been spent strengthening the levees (and this was known before the hurricane hit) the city could have withstood the worst effects of the hurricane. The same applies to the aftermath of the hurricane. The failure at both state and federal level to adequately respond after the hurricane hit was also human failure not a failure to deal with an impossible situation.

What could have been done for New Orleans could be done in principle for much of the land which would be flooded if the global warmers’ most lurid predictions for a rise in global sea levels (20 feet or so) came true. The problem of course from the global warmers’ point of view is that most of the land which would be flooded without man-made defences is in the Third World which has neither the money nor the expertise to build the necessary sea defences or to deal with disasters once they have hit. This knowledge prevents most global warmers from pushing prevention and mitigation as a solution to the alleged threat rather than a reduction in CO2 emissions. Nor, of course, do the global warmers mention the fact that much of the Third World’s problems are caused by uncontrolled breeding and that most of the world’s population now and for the foreseeable future will live in the now developing countries. Responsibility for the global warmers in the first world is a one way street: the first world is responsible for what their peoples do; the peoples of the rest of the world are not. 

Finally take the global warmers’ response to the fact that  Britain’s share of CO2 emissions is tiny,  2pc of the world total. When the point is made that whatever Britain does it can have very little effect on global warming because we are responsible for so little of the CO2, the global warmers retreat to the adolescent moral exhortation of “Britain needing to set an example to the rest of the world”.

The consequences of a quasi-belief in man-made global warming becoming part of the elite ideology are considerable. It means that those who oppose either the idea of man-made global warming or  the favoured elite means of adjusting to it are denied regular opportunities to publicly put it.   Most dangerously it prompts politicians construct policies to deal with the alleged problem, most notably  the Kyoto Protocol (1997) designed to reduce CO2 emissions. Such measures  may be ineffective in achieving their aim but they do place burdens on the countries which  take them seriously and implement measures to meet their treaty obligation. Of course, most countries do not and never will meet such obligations.

The Third World and energy related greenhouse gases.

Apart from their current and ongoing industrialisation,  it  is surprising that no one ever queries the type of claims made about energy consumption in the underdeveloped world as it is now. The global warming campaigners are forever telling us that the Great Satan of Global Warming, the USA, has a per capita use of energy many times that of the toiling masses of the Third World. The rest of the developed world including Britain is less of a demon, but still a considerable global warming villain in the eyes of the likes of Friends of the Earth.

These claims have always struck me as somewhat odd. How is that the five billion or so people who live in undeveloped or developing economies and burn raw fossil fuels straight into the air manage to emit less global warming gases than the billion or so people living in the developed world whose energy waste outputs are generally filtered, whether that be in a power station or in a car?  I am not saying that the current quantificatins of energy use and greenhouse emissions are wrong, merely that it is odd that no one with a public voice ever questions whether they are.

Let’s assume that man-made global warming is happening

Some facts. At the most generous estimate, five sixths of the world’s population live in countries which are either still far from fully fledged industrialised societies (India, China), or are essentially non-industrialised (take your pick from any country in sub-Saharan Africa). The idea that  those countries will not continue with industrialisation is fanciful to the point of madness. If only half of the developing world achieves full industrialisation within the next quarter century their output of the gases supposedly responsible for global warming will utterly dwarf what we have now, especially if the projections of world population rising from 6.5 billion to nine billion over the century turn out to be correct. Most of that increase will come in the Third World.

Even within the developed world it is improbable in the extreme that most governments will  be prepared to take action that will severely affect the lives of their people. The USA and Australia for two are not committed to the Kyoto Protocol. Frances Cairncross,  the president of the British Association and chairman of the Economic and Social Research Council and a man-made global warming advocate, recently admitted this: ‘Miss Cairncross says the Kyoto agreement to cut greenhouse gas emissions is having little impact. India and China, representing a third of humanity, have not signed up and the United States “does not take any notice”.   (Daily Telegraph 04/09/2006). Anyone who believes that most of the world will forgo industrialisation or that industrialised societies will de-industrialise is being naive to the point of idiocy.   If the world is going to Hell in global warming handcart nothing is going to stop it.

The worst policy for any developed state would be to take action to pile costs and restrictions on their own societies while most of the world goes its own sweet non-green way.   Yet the British political elite are doing just that. Not only have they signed up Britain to the Kyoto Protocol, Britain, through its membership of the EU, is committed to the EU Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS) which began operating in 2005. Under this scheme each EU member has to set a target for emissions. It then issues permits up to that target to private companies and public bodies within the member state. If the member state’s emissions exceed the permits it has issued, permits have to be purchased from elsewhere in Europe – the permits issued by a member state can also be traded within that country.

In practice this has the consequence of twice disadvantaging Britain. First, we have burdens on our industry and economy which most of the world does not have. Second, there is no equality within the EU because the various EU members set their own targets for CO2 reduction. In Britain’s case that is a more stringent target (12.5pc reduction on the 1990 UK emissions) than most EU members , including Germany. According to an OpenEurope pamphlet “The high price of hot air: the EU Emissions Scheme is an environmental and economic failure (July 2006), this meant in 2005 that the UK had to buy in œ500m worth of additional permits from foreign business rivals while German firms made a profit of £300m selling some of their permits to foreigners, something they could do because their emissions target reduction was significantly less than that of Britain.

There is an irony in the fact that the governments, political parties and many of the interest groups who promote the man-made global warming agenda  are supporters of globalism and consequently supporters of policies which are directly in conflict with any reduction in CO2. At one and the same time these people advocate a world in which goods and people can move freely across national borders and the under-developed world is encouraged to industrialise while insisting that CO2 emissions are reduced.  

 The academics

Any academic who wishes to challenge the man-made global warming orthodoxy faces two problems: he or she will find it very difficult to (1)  get grants to conduct research and (2) get their work published in leading academic journals.   These are great disincentives to go against the orthodoxy because in the modern academic world continued employment,  promotion and academic reputation rests heavily on published work. If those disincentives are not enough, any academic who goes against the orthodoxy is likely to be shunned by his fellow academics. He will not be invited to conferences.

Nonetheless, there are sceptics, for example the Australian based  Lavoisier Group argues that global warming is simply part of Nature.  One of their number is William Kininmonth, a former head of the Australian National Climate Centre. His book, Climate Change: A Natural Hazard, sums up their ethos. The Age 29 November 2004.  

A  different sort of sceptic is Bjorn Lomborg, author of  The Skeptical Environmentalist. Lomburg does not deny that man-made global warming is occurring. Rather, he disagrees with the idea that reducing greenhouse  gases is the answer to the alleged problem.Lomburg’s argument is that even if really savage cuts in hothouse gases, especially carbon dioxide, are made over the next century or so, the effect on global warming would be trivial, delaying warming to the levels projected by the global warming believers by a few years at most. 

Lomburg adds to this argument the immense cost of doing what the global warmers want. He argues that this money would be better used by  adapting to higher temperatures and/or diverted to other issues such as AIDS and providing clean water. Most of this money would be directed  at the Third World.   Lomburg is in fact  a  liberal internationalist who differs from the global warmers only in his preferred solution to the alleged problem.

It says much about the quasi-religious nature of the man-made global warmers that despite Lomburg’s liberal internationalist credentials and intentions he is a hate figure in global warming circle. For the true believers it is not enough to believe in man-made global warming you have to buy into the “right” solution. The fact that they are so violent in their response to anyone who dares to challenge them tells you  a great deal about their confidence in the strength of their arguments, namely, they have little actual confidence. Like religious believers they love their faith but know in their heart of hearts that it is not fact but belief and consequently open to challenge. This they cannot deal with emotionally.   

The extent to which the man-made global warming has become the international orthodoxy can be seen from the stance of  the  United Nations-sponsored Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.   Its  chairman, Dr Rajendra Pachauri is a man without doubt,viz: “One can say scientifically it is human action that is driving the bulk of changes that are taking place today.”  The Age 29 November 2004

The sceptics’ main arguments

The claims of the man-made global warmers fall towards  the wild speculation side of the educated guess/wild speculation spectrum. Even the claims that the world is getting warmer are  far from being rock-solid.   Some global-warming sceptics point out that modern temperature data tends to come from people measuring the temperature near to or within towns and cities, whose temperature is higher than that of the natural (non-urban) temperature of the area.   The rise in temperature which has been measured may be wholly or  largely a consequence of the great increase in urbanisation since the Industrial Revolution.   This consideration would be particularly pertinent where historical records are compared with modern records because the older the record the less urbanisation and the greater the chance that the actual temperature has been recorded. In short, comparing temperatures now with temperatures in the past may be a case of comparing apples and oranges. It is also worth noting that the claims such as that Britain has reliable temperature records going back 350 years are grossly misleading. There are records made by individuals at different places and times which have been collated in an attempt to give a historical temperature chronology. There is no standardisation of measurement or continuity of measurement in any place over the centuries  and consequently even comparisons between recordings of temperature made by different people at different times in the same place are dubious.

Global warming sceptics also refer to the  discrepancy  between  temperature records taken at the earth’s surface and those recorded by  satellites and balloons in the low to mid-troposphere – the atmosphere which extends to about 6 miles above the earth. The  satellite and balloon studies show no warming in the low to mid-troposphere in the past twenty years or so.   This is very strange if warming is occurring at ground level for hot air rises and should heat the troposphere. It is worth noting that the troposphere is not intimately affected by Man’s energy emissions as is the case with measurements taken in or close to the urban heat islands.  The scientific sceptics also attack the global warming thesis on two other main grounds: the fallibility of computer models and the effect of the sun’s activity.

Global warming predictions are made using computer models so GIGO – garbage in, garbage out – applies. As the weather forecasters show, predicting the weather even in the immediate future is fraught with insuperable difficulties. If that is so difficult, why should we believe the climatic future can be meaningfully predicted fifty or one hundred years hence, particularly when  phenomena such as  cloud formation, oceanic heat transport and the mixing of the air are still poorly understood?

The Sun’s magnetic field and solar wind – mainly consisting  of  electrons and protons emitted by the Sun – shields our solar system by from cosmic rays (very energetic particles and radiation from outer space). The shield is not 100% effective and some cosmic rays reach the Earth. Moreover, the sun’s activity is not constant which means the shielding effect of the sun varies because the strength of the shield is dependent on the sun’s activity.

Cosmic rays influence cloud formation. Consequently,  the amount of cosmic rays reaching the Earth affects the planet’s overall cloudiness. Clouds affect the radiation from the Sun which reaches  the Earth’s surface and that affects global temperature. Interestingly, satellite data shows a strong correlation between the amount of low clouds over the Earth and the quantity of cosmic rays hitting the  Earth. The implication is that the Sun’s activity is the major or even sole culprit for global warming.  

Assuming the worst

Let us allow that the world is warming, whether due in whole or part to Man or through natural changes, what should we do? Build sea defences, ban building in threatened areas, abandon areas which are incapable of defence, build stronger buildings, develop new strains of crops to deal with changing environments.  Even the most apocalyptic  global warming scientists  do not project a rapid and catastrophic event such as that depicted in the film the Day after tomorrow. Even if the global warmers are correct, the future is controllable.

How do we decide?

Some history. 10,000 years ago the world was just emerging from the  Ice Age, the last of many ice ages. 4,000 years ago much of the Sahara desert was fertile land. 2,000 years ago and Britain was warm enough for the Romans to introduce wine growing on a significant scale. 1,000 years ago Europe, including Britain, entered a period of considerable warming, warming strong enough to allow Greenland to be colonised by Norsemen.   A few centuries later and the glaciers  re-advanced sufficiently  to  cause the Greenland settlements to fail.   All of these events took place before industrialisation. They represent  dramatic changes in climate and the general environment, yet humanity managed to survive without any difficulty.

Similarly, Man has greatly changed his environment throughout history. The most obvious change has been in the size of the human population. This was tiny 10,000 years ago, moderate 2,000 years ago, large 200 years ago and is now truly gigantic for an organism of Man’s size – we are in the top 5% of land animals by size.

The environmental consequences of Man’s increase has been immense. Large tracts of land have been converted from forest to open land, much of it cultivated. Nowhere is this seen more dramatically than in Europe. Yet despite this qualitative change Europe has not suffered any environmental disaster. On a more local scale England went from a medieval agricultural world which had a large component of open (communal) fields with few hedgerows to a world of smaller, privately owned fields following the various bouts of enclosure in the period 1450-1850. Again, no environmental disaster occurred, despite the fact that greens today are forever warning of a loss of diversity through a reduction in the variety of habitat because of the re-creation of larger fields in England.

Finally, consider this fact: no general ecological scare story has ever come to pass. It may be that the world does warm for a while, but it has done so before and the balance of probability is that the earth and Man will accommodate the current warming without causing any general environmental disaster just as they have accommodated previous climatic change.

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  • Olivia  On October 27, 2010 at 3:02 pm

    You know rh156, I actually blogged about this earlier on my blog. This blog post has really given me some food for thought, I feel that you made some interesting points. In fact, I really wish I’d found it prior to posting my own blog post.

    • Robert Henderson  On October 31, 2010 at 9:00 am

      The most important point to hang onto is the population imbalance between the developed world (pop 1 billion) and the developing world (pop 6 billion). Regardless of what the developed world does, greenhouse gas emissions will rise because there are six times as many people in the developing world and by 2050 probably 8 times as many if projected population increases transpire.

      • Ed Darrell  On October 31, 2010 at 6:17 pm

        What that means is that if we can develop technologies and policies that genuinely reduce energy consumption, we have an essentially unlimited market to sell to.

        It also means that we have a chance to get the development right the first time, for most of the world.

        One thing I learned from experience is that the conservative, “we-can’t-do-it” philosophy is almost always wrong.

  • Ed Darrell  On October 27, 2010 at 3:40 pm

    Finally, consider this fact: no general ecological scare story has ever come to pass. It may be that the world does warm for a while, but it has done so before and the balance of probability is that the earth and Man will accommodate the current warming without causing any general environmental disaster just as they have accommodated previous climatic change.

    Well, except for the desertification of Babylon, the deforestation and desertification of Phoenicia (now Lebanon — see any forests?), the destruction of Carthage, the deforestation of New Hampshire, the Dust Bowl, the Gulf of Mexico Dead Zone, the Aral Sea disaster and a few others, you’re right.

    It’s the exceptions you gotta worry about.

    By the way, WHO never stopped using, and urging others to use, DDT. Your human history of recent events is as incorrect as your ancient history is forgetful.

    • rh156  On October 27, 2010 at 7:57 pm

      1. There is no solid evidence that events such as the desertification of Babylon were the result of human activity.
      2. All the instances you cite are local not global events.
      3. The events are of very different, for example, Carthage militaily destroyed by Rome, the dust bowl, by farming.

      As for DDT, to pretend there was not campaign tp prevent its use by governments and the UN is simply wrong. They are still doing it, viz:

      For two years the United Nations paid lip service to the truth that the insecticide DDT is a vital component of malaria control, but last week UN abandoned science in favor of superstition. The result is UN promotion of more dangerous and less efficient malaria control techniques.

      On May 5th, the World Health Organization (WHO) and the United Nations Environment Program announced plans to reduce DDT use by 30% by 2014 and completely eliminate it by around 2020. In the mean time, the UN will roll out initiatives in 40 countries to test non-chemical methods of malaria control. In particular UN wants to scale up the programs of Central America, which have relied on “pharmacosuppression”.

      • Ed Darrell  On October 31, 2010 at 7:51 pm

        1. Lowdermilk is old, and purple in prose, but close enough to accurate for our purposes: Yes, the destruction of the green belt that once was Babylon was human caused.

        In Mesopotamia, agriculture was practiced in a very dry climate on canal irrigation with muddy water. Waters of the Twin Rivers are now heavily charged with the products of erosion out of far mountain gorges and overgrazed hill lands, of the Tigris and Euphrates drainage. This muddy water was the undoing of empire after empire by reason of silt. As muddy river waters slowed down, they choked up the canals with silt. It was necessary to keep this silt out of the canals year after year to supply life-giving waters to farm lands and to cities of the plain. As populations grew, canals were dug further and further from the rivers, until a great system of canals called for a great force of hand labor to keep them clean of silt. This was a very serious problem, for the rulers of Babylon brought in war captives for this task. Now we understand why the captive Israelites “sat down by the waters of Babylon and wept,” for they also were doubtless required to dig silt out of the canals of Mesopotamia.

        As these great public works of cleaning silt out of canals were interrupted from time to time by internal revolutions and by foreign invaders, the peoples of Mesopotamia were brought face to face with disaster in canals choked with silt. Stoppage of canals by silt depopulated villages and cities more effectively than the slaughter of people by an invading army.

        On the basis of an estimate that it was possible in times past to irrigate 21,000 square miles of the 35,000 square miles of the alluvium of Mesopotamia, the population of Mesopotamia at its zenith was probably between 17 and 25 million. The present population of all Iraq is estimated to be about 4,000,000 including nomadic peoples. Of this total not more than 3,500,000 live on the alluvial plain.

        Decline in population in Mesopotamia is not due to loss of soil by erosion; for the fertile lands are still in place and life-giving waters still flow in the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers, ready to be spread upon the lands today as in times past. Mesopotamia is capable of supporting as great a population as it ever did and greater when modern engineering makes use of reinforced concrete construction for irrigation works and powered machinery to keep canal systems open. A greater area of Mesopotamia thus might be farmed than ever before in the long history of this tragic land. But erosion in the hinterlands aggravated the silt problem in waters of the Twin Rivers, as they were drawn off into the ancient canal systems, and invasions of nomads out of the grasslands and the desert brought about the breakdown of irrigation that spelled disaster after disaster.

        In those circles where agriculture and ecological disasters are studied, there is no question but that humans have, many times in the past, created massive disasters of climate change. I’d love to see a serious, scholarly argument that the disasters I first mentioned, including especially the American Dust Bowl, were not human caused.

        2. If you think the Dust Bowl had only local consequences, you’re not paying attention. Federal legislation to aid Dust Bowl victims came only after Washington, D.C., was blacked out by dust from the Midwest. Residents of Oregon today suffer from diseases caused by industrial pollution — from Western China. Medical journals document the odd diseases North Americans suffer from that are caused by micro-organisms from the Sahara, today — blown across the Atlantic.

        Odd that you fall back to “global scope” only when I offer many major disasters. If you want another, global scope ecological disaster, consider the ozone holes at poles, caused chiefly by industrial nations’ fugitive emissions from pressurized cans: The entire world suffering for the sake of bouffant hair!

        Dead zones in the Gulf of Mexico are matched by the massive Garbage Eddys of the Pacific and Atlantic. These are global in scale in cause, and effect. Have you checked the success of the world’s great fishing fleets lately? The economic success of New England once was assured by fishing in the Grand Banks, with fishermen coming from around the world to benefit.

        Can you tell me about that fishing industry today?

        How about the Chesapeake Bay, for 300 years the most productive body of water for seafood in the world. What are exports from the Chesapeake today?

        How many canaries need to die in this mine before you take the hint?

        3. Causes of the disasters differ, yes — but they remain human-caused, global scale ecological disasters. Romans burned Carthage and salted the vinyards and orchards. In the 1960s, one could still go to North Africa and see the dead, bare and barren olive trees from those wars. Are you arguing that North Africa is, today, a rival to Italy in agricultural production? It was a man-made disaster that has crippled humankind for a millennium, so far.

        4. I noted that the UN has blocked no nation from using DDT, ever — it doesn’t have the power, and that was not its policy. Your press release from 2009 does not contest the facts in any way. It says only that the UN itself is phasing out DDT from the programs it operates — 60 years later, but progress is always welcomed.

        Read the reports.
        (see Karl’s comment, too).

        DDT is still manufactured in gross amounts and still used in gross amounts. That hasn’t stopped malaria, nor even slowed it down in many cases in many places.

        Scientists have been right remarkably often during the 19th, 20th and 21st centuries. Betting against them now is probably not a good idea.

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